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University Is 32nd in U.S. News Global Rankings

Holds steady in assessment despite expanded pool


BU has come in 32nd in this year’s assessment of global universities by U.S. News & World Report. The University maintained the same standing earned in last year’s ranking despite the increased competition from a pool of universities that was expanded by one third.

The latest ranking, the third in this category from U.S. News & World Report, looked at 1,000 schools from 65 nations.

The University also earned high marks in several academic disciplines. Out of 200 programs assessed, BU ranked 38 in neuroscience and behavior, 43 in molecular biology and genetics, and 56 in immunology. Of 400 programs assessed, BU ranked 26 in physics and 63 in biology and biochemistry.

“BU’s stature among the world’s premier research institutions continues to be reaffirmed,” University Provost Jean Morrison says, “by both the pioneering work of our faculty and the recognition we receive through comparative evaluations like the U.S. News & World Report global rankings.” BU’s ranking, she adds, “is a reflection of the important, highly relevant practical discoveries being logged daily by our research community across both campuses. So, too, it is a reminder of how competitive an environment it remains among our peer group and how hard we must work in the years to come to continue building on this success.”

The U.S. News rankings of different sets of universities can be confusing. Its recent assessment of domestic universities and colleges put BU at 39, behind local schools such as Tufts (27), Boston College (31), and Brandeis (34). Yet in the global rankings, those schools placed far behind BU, with Tufts at 229, BC at 408, and Brandeis at 280.

The discrepancy is the result of different criteria employed by the different rankings.

“The global rankings emphasize graduate education, while the domestic ranking is a ranking of undergraduate programs,” says Melanie Madaio-O’Brien, BU’s assistant vice president for institutional research. “The global ranking puts much more emphasis on research, as measured by faculty scholarly productivity and research reputation.” The domestic ranking, by contrast, “places more weight on student quality and the University’s reputation among peer institutions and high school counselors,” she says.

“They measure completely different things. In its simplest sense, I tend to think of the domestic ranking as more focused on students and teaching, while the global rankings are more focused on faculty and research.”

The top five universities in this year’s global rankings are all in the United States: Harvard, MIT, Stanford, the University of California, Berkeley, and the California Institute of Technology. BU ranked just behind the University of British Columbia and tied for 32nd place with the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Rich Barlow, Senior Writer, BU Today, Bostonia, Boston University
Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

6 Comments on University Is 32nd in U.S. News Global Rankings

  • Charles Henebry on 10.26.2016 at 9:50 am

    Given the increasingly broad consensus as to the negative impact of US News rankings on education, should BU be proud of its standing?

    John Tierney of The Atlantic recently offered a brief recap (http://theatln.tc/2dWleNv) of criticisms leveled against the USNews Rankings, two of which strike me as particularly significant:
    • The list “exacerbates the status anxiety” of prospective students and parents
    • The rankings system rewards colleges with higher costs, costs that lead to higher tuition paid

    To these social costs of the rankings system one might add its hollow statistics:
    • Fails to measure educational outcomes
    • Easily gamed by schools

    Maybe it’s too much to ask that Rich Barlow offer a more nuanced take on the news that BU “held steady” in the USNews rankings; after all, BU is proud of its status, and Mr. Barlow is a writer for the university’s in-house promotional newsletter. But, speaking as both a BU parent and a member of its faculty, I would be prouder if we as an institution took a stand that was more ethically and intellectually rigorous and took this opportunity not to celebrate but to question the virtue of this ranking system.

    • Joyce Hackel on 10.26.2016 at 3:41 pm

      Thanks for this thoughtful comment. The list does indeed exacerbate the status anxiety. Here’s for giving it less attention.

    • Alum on 10.26.2016 at 3:42 pm

      What a party pooper. As long as people understand the ranking methodology for any given ranking as opposed to just throwing around numbers, they can serve as somewhat useful comparison shopping in a very brand-focused society where competition is intense. But, at the end of the day, #39 on a list may be #1 for me based on my own circumstances and preferences. One component of the U.S. News domestic rankings that I think should be removed is the ‘peer assessment.’ What does a peer school know about the ins and outs of my university that qualifies them to assign a score of, say, 3.4 out of 5.0? To me, that’s when the rankings become problematic and unreliable.

      • Unfortunately on 10.28.2016 at 12:28 am

        That’s one of the area’s that BU scores best on though…

  • Kent on 10.26.2016 at 11:43 am

    good read

  • Meg Mayer on 11.10.2016 at 5:41 am

    Never mind. Got it: #32 among the Best Global Universities (U.S. News & World Report)
    #39 in the nation (U.S. News & World Report—Best National Universities 2017)

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